In today’s non-stop world of digital input and 24 hour news, with people stuck for hours at a PC or almost permanently attached to a smart phone, many of us struggle to find time for ourselves. External pressures create stress and mental health issues are surfacing at a more rapid rate than at any time in our history. Eating habits have changed, with more people putting on weight and we’re generally far less active than we used to be. One simple activity has been proved to help alleviate all these problems for just about everyone, irrespective of age and circumstances. WALKING is available to most us – and it’s free.
The Health Benefits of Walking
1. Walking improves your physical health
‘Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.’ NHS UK
It’s great news that such an easy form of activity can produce such significant effects. Simply swapping the escalator for the stairs or walking to the shops instead of going in the car makes a difference. A recent study on the health benefits of regular walking says it can add 7 years to our lives and help repair DNA. Ideally we need to be doing 10,000 steps a day but any walking can help. I don’t manage anywhere near that most days, but then at weekends aim to do at least that, if not more. You can walk alone or with family and friends. There are plenty of walking groups and hiking holidays if you’re looking for company.
On a lovely walking holiday in Yorkshire, I hiked about 5 miles a day; the oldest walker in our group was 78 years old and I couldn’t keep up with her!
2. Walking improves your mental health
‘A good walk can do wonders for your mental wellbeing. … Being active has a whole range of benefits when it comes to mental wellbeing. It improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue.’ Walking for Health
For many years I have been prone to depression; not the crippling clinical depression that some poor folk suffer from. More a low-level, debilitating feeling of gloom and pointlessness. There’s usually a reason; money-worries, relationship problems, health issues, family stuff. I’ve had counselling and therapy, which has helped and my doctor has always recommended old-fashioned ‘fresh air and exercise’ to counteract it. (Family members and friends who have it much worse than me have been helped by medication, CBT and other therapeutic techniques). On a trip to the Galapagos Islands I was feeling very low due to some personal problems, but walking in this stunning landscape, communing up close with nature (and swimming with sea lions!) and a good chat with a friend, left me feeling heaps better.
I often go to one of my favourite places near where I live, Heysham Barrows in Lancashire, which has great views across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District. After a brisk walk and a sit down beside the ancient chapel, the moody blues are blown far away across the water …
3. Walking improves your spiritual health
There are spiritual benefits to walking (at least once daily) if you consider that walking is a solitary activity that allows the opportunity for prayer, meditation and high thought. But it is also a time to reflect and process as well as to express appreciation for natural beauty … Sharecare
Being outdoors in beautiful surroundings can be wonderful for the spirit as our minds and bodies. There has been a lot of talk recently about mindfulness, a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. In this way we tap into what some call our soul or spirit. Deepak Chopra, a well-known supporter of alternative medicine, advocates Mindful Walking as a way to, “ … provide a deeper connection to the spirit.” One of the reasons the Lake District and many other National Parks around the world, are so popular, is that they are places where our soul reconnects with its natural source. Strolling near water ie the sea, lake, river, pool, in or near mountains, amongst trees, flowers, grass and other natural sights can bring peace and harmony if you give it a chance …
TWO other benefits are for CREATIVITY and SOCIABILITY. It’s been proved that walking enhances your ability to think creatively and come up with new solutions to problems and ideas for both personal and business life. Going out for a walk with other people helps stave off feelings of loneliness and increases feelings of sociability and acceptance in community.
I wrote this article partly in response to the Easter interview with Prince Harry who spoke so movingly about the death of his mother and suffering from mental health problems as a result. He and his brother Prince William are raising awareness of mental health issues and their high profile contribution will hopefully help more people to talk about depression and mental health.
The other trigger was Julia Bradbury commenting on BBC Radio 4 about the physical and mental health benefits of walking. As a business coach, I offer #walkntalk coaching sessions where the client and I go for a walk to explore the issues that concern them. Invariably, just being outside and moving rather than stuck in an office, frees up the thought process and solutions to problems present themselves more readily.
Maybe this article will persuade you to get out and have a good walk more often; it’ll do you a power of good in more ways than you may have imagined. Do leave a comment sharing your thoughts on the positive impact walking has had on you any time – I’d love to hear from you.
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